Saturday, May 4, 2024

A Meditation: Encounter Designing

I am going through and fleshing out Moridis' Halls, building it one encounter at a time. However, what's happening is that it is logically and organically growing upwards and outwards as I go. Here's a snapshot of the process so far...

The initial entry area was a small temple complex that abuts to some natural caves. The temple was easy... and a straight line. Entry > preparation room > temple proper. The temple was populated by zombies worshipping an altar, the altar had a small magical thingy to it, and the entrance was being overrun by natural flora and fauna that were creeping in. Easy so far.

Then I decided on the middle cave - it is inhabited by some goblins. Fine. The next step was the game changer - how do they interact with the temple? Hmmm. Well, I decided this is a source of tension. The rank-and-file goblins worship there and want to give offerings, but their boss, who is a bit smarter and a bit cynical, resents having his money go sit in a bowl for zombies. Hmm. Then I asked that question for the next encounter after... how does he interact with the passage to the right? (A natural pool below a cliff facing). Again, similar answer - the goblins also worship what is there (a ghouled giant snake), and keep throwing his money over the side to appease this 'servant' of their god. Adventurers become an ideal way to maybe solve all of his problems. Now, he's more motivated to parlay with the fellowship rather than kill them, and just like that I have a complex dungeon crawl going. 

The final piece was to give him a long-term goal. He wants a magical amulet that is for sale in a strange place. This then lead to the creation of the Bazaar of Untold Lands (which is modeled on the flea market in Buffalo we used to visit on weekends when I was a teenager). This is set inside a tessaract, and it interacts with dozens of worlds, meaning that it truly is a Bazaar of strange and wondrous stuff. This can now be the centerpiece of the campaign, and the centerpiece of the dungeon. This is where you go to make deals, interact with powerful NPCs, and even meet Moridis herself. Everyone (except Moridis) is bound by a 'no violence, no magic, and no thievery' clause that results in instantaneous banishment. Now a 'beholder like' monster can be there, just chilling, and the heroes can encounter it at level 1. They can think about how to maybe lure it out of the bazaar some day to kill it, and maybe to invade its native realm by some other means, but for now, it's just there hanging out and they can talk to it. Moridis herself can stroll about. I can float out magical items that the heroes want, and set weird prices for it: Oh, you want the sword of the third army? Fine. It will cost you ten dragon eggs. Now... back to the dungeons to find some dragon eggs. The bazaar itself serves the same function as an inn (in many ways), but it's supernaturally transposed right into the dungeon. If somehow the heroes could get magic that allows access to the other realms it connects to, they become multiversal globetrotters with a specific entry and exit point being the Bazaar itself. 

I love it. And these few things then opened the door to the rest of the dungeon. Because Moridis sometimes travels about, she might also interact with the fellowship, even at level 1. Then I realized the purpose of level 1 - it is where she has cast off her 'failed' progeny. Three young dragons are here, all dealing with rejection by their mom in different ways. They are spread about the dungeon. Moridis is fine if the fellowship kills these dragons - she actually would like these 'weak' children of hers to be tested. Maybe they can prove worthy... or receive the death they probably deserve. No skin off her nose. The three dragons (and their lairs) become the centerpoints of the rest of the dungeon. So, I went to the map and popped in a rough outline of those three encounter areas. Now, I can organically build the dungeon around those areas in the same way. I've got some of the big-picture stuff worked out, and can add nuance and detail as I go.

You can follow the development of the dungeon in this living document, which I update as I adventure through the dungeon. I fugre that once it's done, I might publish the book as a supplement for the game.

In the same way, as I create monsters, magic, and rules in exploring the dungeon, I'm updated the Hack'D & Slash'D Companion, which would also see publication once it hits 48 pages or so.

Both projects have a ways to go, but it's fun working on them the way I am. 

Parenthetically, the iconic encounter from the inside of the BX rules will be happening in area 63. I'm really looking forward to that encounter :)


  1. The Bazaar is a great idea, I like how you are developing this.

    1. Thanks. I think this is going to be a pretty solid dungeon when all is said and done.